Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, stopped by #bufferchat this week to share his expertise and insights all about the concept of essentialism! We discussed what it means to be an essentialist, strategies for working toward this mindset, how to decide which things are essential in your life, and much more.

Read on to discover all of the amazing ideas and thoughts that were shared during the chat.

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Bufferchat on Sept 28, 2016: Essentialism with special guest Gregory McKeown

This week’s stats:
1st Bufferchat: 80 participants; 210 tweets; reach of 935,775
2nd Bufferchat: 227 participants;1,366 tweets; reach of 1,306,175

Q1: How would you define “Essentialism?”

From Greg:

  • Essentialism is the disciplined pursuit of less but better.
  • Essentialism is not really about Essentialism… it is about you living your most meaningful life. Finding your highest contribution.
  • It’s about becoming more of who you really are and less of who you really are not.
  • Discerning between the vital few and the trivial many.

From the community:

  • “Definition of essentialism: Do less, accomplish more.” @milestech
  • “I’d define “essentialism” as focusing on activities to produce better outcomes & removing things that hurt productivity.” @mr0ach
  • “Being able to select and discern more, set priorities and be more effective by saying no.” @SabrinaCadini
  • “Only doing the things that yield real results, and not being busy or being present for the sake of it.” @graeme_fulton
  • #Essentialism helps you figure out what’s important, helps maximize your time & achieve your goals.” @nancycasanova

See all the great answers to question 1 here!

Q2: How can being an Essentialist impact our lives?

From Greg:

  • It helps us get better control of our choices.
  • Essentialism helps us to live consciously not compulsively.
  • Being an Essentialist is different to thinking about Essentialism occasionally. It means taking on a different way of doing everything.
  • The value proposition of Essentialism is really that we can break through to the next level personally and professionally.

From the community:

  • “It can definitely reduce stress and give you a better peace of mind knowing you got the most important things accomplished.” @kjaymiller
  • “Urges us to evaluate the most essential aspects & set aside other unnecessary things. Can help us lead more fulfilling lives.” @FatherFoodFun
  • “Being an essentialist could help discover easily what’s worth energy and time in the long run vs. reactionary timesucks.” @hmhagency
  • “Essentialism makes you define your values and then live by them.” @scribblinghappy
  • “It can free up energy (creative, kinetic, spiritual) to enjoy the most prized elements of your life to the fullest.” @Traci_Poole

See all the great answers to question 2 here!

Q3: What are some strategies for Essentialism that have worked well for you?

From Greg:

  • Make a graphical to-do list where the most important item is given more space. I’ve been doing it recently and love it! (Like this.)
  • So you limit yourself to six important items for the day. Put them in priority order. And emphasize the first one first.

From the community:

  • “I’m a big fan of writing priorities down for the day and checking it often. Like too for help.” @steveTjohnson
  • “Learning to say no can actually help you prioritize & be productive.” @reallykristi
  • “Appointing myself the high-level manager in my life. I see what matters so it’s up to me to choose those things.” @NicoleBlack414
  • “Actually constantly asking myself “so what? now what” does wonders! Any situation, project, task, ask these questions.” @optimizemybrand
  • “Learning to stop yourself and stepping back before trying to jump on every opportunity. Being selective.” @husamerciyes

See all the great answers to question 3 here!

Q4: How do you know which of your commitments to focus on and which to put aside?

From Greg:

  • You have to do it randomly, based on whatever email has just arrived… just kidding.
  • Use the 90-percent rule. Question anything that doesn’t get you to a pretty definite yes. We get caught up in saying yes to things that are good (60, 70, 80 percent yes). Instead, we need to look for the things that are 90-percent or above “yesses.”
  • Catch yourself saying, “I will do both” when faced with a tradeoff situation. Pick the priority.
  • Priority came into the English language in the 1400s and it was singular: the first or prior thing. Pluralized in the 1900s.
  • You don’t bend reality by saying, “Here are my 20 priorities” you just end up making a millimeter progress in a million directions.

From the community:

  • That one thing that you can’t stop thinking about, keeps you awake at night? Keep THAT, ditch the rest for now. @ideabloke
  • “What matters most to me? How much time does each commitment need? What is lacking? What has greater “reward”?” @AnnaAnnamotion
  • “For me, I do a comparison between how much IMPACT I will make vs how much ENERGY I will put into such task.” @Dhaar_mhie
  • “Think about a tree structure. What 5 (and only 5) “roots” are needed to support the tree. Do that. Reserve some time to nap.” @allennieman
  • “Things that help me achieve my goals get the priority.” @danielleirogers

See all the great answers to question 4 here!

Q5: What’s an example of when less is more?

From Greg:

  • Working on the big “yes” project instead of being buried in email ALL day.
  • Eating the right delicious food rather than eating rubbish without really thinking about it. Conscious vs. compulsive.
  • I want to challenge the question a little though: the goal of essentialism is “less but better” it’s quality vs. quantity.
  • It’s me putting my email and phone away for 2.5 weeks on holiday (did not check once) and being really present with my family.
  • Less stuff; more memories.

From the community:

  • “Less stress, more focus.” @lizeischen
  • “In conversation. I’m trying to be a more generous listener, which means quieting the “what can I add?” part of the brain.” @kathryndlewis
  • “Websites. There’s a reason  is a thing! Crowded text makes us anxious. Simplicity lets us focus.” @scribblinghappy
  • “”Do less, achieve more:” allows you to do a few things really well versus lots of things only average.” @kathrynwh4
  • “One of the best example is 140 character limit of the tweet.” @sandeepsktr

See all the great answers to question 5 here!

Q6: If you had more time to do what you enjoyed, what would you do?

From Greg:

  • I recently watched (an edited version) of “About Time” and loved how slow the father’s life felt. He wasn’t rushing.
  • Not just about what I would do with more time; it is about being in this moment to a greater extent. Diff presence not diff projects.
  • I love the book/treatise by Seneca “On the Shortness of Life” where he teaches we already have enough time. Just waste it.
  • Love the idea and practice of a theme for the year. Could use “rest” or “less” or “breathe” or “gratitude.”

From the community: 

  • “Write more and publish novels. Travel and write about my experiences. Read. Visit libraries worldwide.” @KymWrites
  • “My unconventional answer / reframe – I don’t need more time. Just better priorities. :)” @Aboundlessworld
  • “Take time every day for a long coffee with friends. Read more every day. Take time to admire the nature & enjoy life.” @ZalkaB
  • “Be more present. To not be pulled from family, friends & community for work but engage the world around me more fully.” @lizeischen
  • “Pursue more photography and make high-quality videos. Dive into motion graphics and coding. Read more.” @_HunterWilson_

See all the great answers to question 6 here!

Q7: What’s one action step you can take this week to move toward being an Essentialist?

From Greg:

  • My advice to you is to run essentialist experiments and be gentle on yourself in the process.
  • Essentialism is a “disciplined pursuit” of less but better. So you won’t get it perfect. Indeed, that isn’t even the goal.
  • Rather, try something small and record your results in a journal. Every day capture every success: celebrate the tiniest progress.
  • You can’t become an Essentialist in a nonessential way: that is, don’t try to become an Essentialist by trying to get it perfect.
  • Treat every day like a prototype opportunity and learn from experimentation. Then celebrate. Then try again. Then celebrate again.
  • That’s my advice to you in your marvelous ongoing adventure to design and live a life that really matters.

From the community:

  • “Start small. Cut out just one or two things that are currently “filling the gaps.” Then go from there.” @creativesclub
  • “Pare down your to do list! I found this Fast Company article helpful.” @newmedian
  • “Not everything needs a reply or answer at that moment. Take time to process before answering requests.” @JoeShowOnAir

See all the great answers to question 7 here!


Thank you so much to Greg for taking the time to share so many wonderful insights, and to everyone who participated in this chat!

Catch #bufferchat each Wednesday at 9 am PT, 12 pm ET, 5 pm BST (GMT+1)  OR at 4 pm AEDT (Sydney time). Join our Slack community with over 2,000 members to continue these awesome conversations all week long!

Do you have any comments or answers to these questions? Leave your thoughts in the comments! We’d love to hear from you!

Image sources: UnSplash

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Written by Arielle Tannenbaum

Community Strategist at Buffer. In addition to her love of community building, Arielle also loves vegetables, cooking, practicing yoga, meditating, living mindfully, and exploring the connections between health and happiness!

  • Bella Sarah

    Nice article, also checkout Greg McKeown’s interview on the AoC Podcast, he gives a lot of tips about this, it’s been really helpful for me.

    • Oh cool! Thanks for this suggestion, @disqus_BoJZRwWUOa:disqus! 🙂

  • Joshua Allen

    So weird. I was just searching for information about this stuff and you popped up. You must be doing something right. Thanks by the way, this really answered some questions I was throwing around in the back of my mind.

  • Shawn Wood

    I actually have some fans on a facebook page related to this stuff. I’ll share your post with them and see what they have to say. I’m sure they’ll love it though.